NordVPN Review: The King of VPNs?

At WIFI, we have made no secret of the fact that NordVPN is the best all-around VPN service in our opinion. However, is it also the very best and the market leader that it claims to be? Whether that is the case and why you can read in this extensive review!


 

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Not much time? This is the most important information.

Nord Logo


NordVPN is based in Panama. That’s great because privacy laws in this country are designed in such a way that the risk of use is absolutely minimized.

For an extremely friendly price, you get access to more than the average VPN service offers. This way you not only get access to a wealth of servers spread around the world and the standard functions such as the kill switch IP and DNS leak prevention. You also get extras like double VPN, Onion over VPN, Smart Play, and so on.

The user experience is also optimal. Internet speeds suffer little from all this functionality and navigation within the various apps is refreshingly smooth. Although the access to settings within the apps could have been a bit more extensive, this simplicity is probably a welcome given for many.

About NordVPN

NordVPN is a Panama- based service that offers a well-known range of VPN services. You can make up to six connections with this. NordVPN applies a strict zero-logs policy, so all data about your use is invisible to malicious spectators.

Thanks to all this, is NordVPN really the best VPN  on the market right now? You will now find out.

What we like:

  • Has a zero-logs policy, as it should be
  • Clients are very easy to use​
  • You get a wealth of extra features​
  • The customer service is fast and friendly

What we don’t like:

  • Only the two-year subscription is financially attractive

This is important before buying a VPN service

1. Prices and Features

prices

One of the many great things about NordVPN is that they offer discounts very regularly. At the time of writing, for example, there is a promotion where you get a 68% discount on the normal rate. The following rates currently apply:

  • €3.30 per month for a two-year subscription; in total  €79.21 per 2 years
  • €8.01 per month for a half-year subscription; in total  €48.06 per 6 months
  • €10.64 for a single month subscription

As you can see, the two-year subscription is by far the most economical option. You pay for the subscriptions with a credit card, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, So fort, Union Pay, and various cryptocurrencies! For this, you also make  6 connections with the service.

NordVPN on a Macbook

Functionalities

For this money, you get access to no less than 5,416 servers spread over 59 countries. This includes a number of specialized servers. These are servers for BitTorrent traffic via VPN, double encryption, connection to Tor’s anonymization network (the Onion Router), and defense against DDoS attacks. NordVPN also offers hidden servers intended to sneak past governments or services that block VPN traffic.

You can also use a number of extra services. Many VPNs – including NordVPN – include extra features to provide extra security for customers and attract new customers. NordVPN has a small collection called CyberSec. It allows NordVPN to block ads and malware and prevent network-level DDoS activities.

Furthermore, NordVPN also offers the following services:

  • DNS leak protection:  If you manually set up your VPN connection (because you didn’t want to connect via OpenVPN, for example) or if you recently reset your Windows operating system, you are prone to DNS leaks. Your DNS requests will then be completely unsecured and visible to your internet provider despite using your VPN. NordVPN has implemented measures to protect you against this and prevent such leaks.

What is a DNS request?

The DNS (Domain Name System) is responsible for converting domain names such as “nordvpn.com” into actual IP addresses to connect to. Basically, it translates the long, complex, and hard-to-remember numerical names of web servers into human language and vice versa.

So when your computer needs to connect to a particular website, such as when you enter “www.nordvpn.com” into your browser, it first contacts a DNS server and asks for that site’s unique IP address ( the DNS request). This procedure is a crucial part of how the Internet works.

  • Kill Switch:  This is an option that NordVPN offers that will automatically disconnect you if your VPN connection is interrupted. This will block your device or prevent certain programs from accessing the internet.
  • Onion over VPN:  For added protection – or if you want to visit the dark web (TOR network) – NordVPN offers the option to send your traffic through their VPN first and then send it to The Onion Router.
  • Double VPN:  If you choose to enable this feature, NordVPN will forward your data not through one, but through two consecutive VPN servers before it reaches the web page or application you are trying to access. By linking your connection through two VPN servers, your data is also encrypted twice. Due to the double encryption, the second VPN server is not aware of your original IP address.
  • SmartPlay:  SmartPlay technology gives you access to over 400 geo-restricted streaming services. Think of Netflix, Hulu, BBC, and so on. With more and more VPN servers unable to access Netflix, this is a very welcome feature.
  • Static and/or dedicated IP address:  If a VPN gives you a shared static IP address, you will get the same IP address every time you connect to a specific server, but it will be shared with other users. If you choose a dedicated IP address, your static IP address will not be shared with anyone else.
NordVPN on iPhone

2. Privacy

Servers and locations

As mentioned, NordVPN currently has over  5,416 servers in 59 countries. This also includes countries and states with strict internet usage laws, such as Hong Kong, Turkey, and Vietnam.

In addition, NordVPN itself is based in Panama. This also has its privacy-related advantages. Why? Because there is no legislation that obliges the company to keep your data for a certain period of time.

NordVPN lets you choose from a list of 59 countries. Most of NordVPN’s servers are located in the US and UK. However, NordVPN also has a rich mix of servers around the world with locations in Asia, Central and South America, Central and Eastern Europe, and a handful in India and the Middle East. The company currently also has servers in South Africa, which is neglected by many other VPN services.

While I really appreciate NordVPN’s geographic diversity, there are companies that have yet to surpass NordVPN’s offerings.  ExpressVPN, for example, covers 94 countries.

Server

However, NordVPN has an impressive 5,416 servers available. VPN services also create new servers as needed, so the total number of servers is partly a reflection of how popular the service is. Ideally, such a wide variety of servers ensures that no single server becomes overcrowded.

Performance doesn’t directly correlate with the number of servers, but the sheer size of NordVPN’s network suggests you’re unlikely to run into an overloaded server.

You may have noticed that there is a different recipient on the invoice or proof of payment after purchasing your subscription:  CloudVPN Inc. After a bit of Googling, you can quickly see that it is based in the United States rather than Panama. NordVPN has a pretty logical explanation for this:

“[…] First, NordVPN and all the infrastructure we use is operated by Tefincom SA and is under the jurisdiction of Panama.

[Second] [CloudVPN] is only used as a payroll company to improve the chances of acceptance [of payments] because banks are suspicious of transactions made to Panama and tend to complicate or block such payments. This is a simple and common way of doing business.

Our company has absolutely nothing to do with the service itself in legal or otherwise.”

NordVPN

Zero logs policy

In fact, when you use a VPN, it has just as much insight into your online activities as your ISP. If desired, it can examine every piece of information that goes through its system. A VPN can also identify you to another party (read: law enforcement), making it possible to track you online.

Android TV with NordVPN

However, a NordVPN representative says the company doesn’t store timestamps of your connections, bandwidth used, traffic logs, or IP addresses – which is excellent. Instead, NordVPN will keep the username and duration of your last session, but only for 15 minutes after you disconnect from the VPN.

Thus, the company has no information it could actually hand over in response to a subpoena. Taking all this into account, the company would also only respond to a court order or subpoena from a Panamanian court. (Not that that would be of much use, because – as mentioned – NordVPN does not store any data anyway… 🤐)

For you, all this means that NordVPN in principle has no insight into your internet use and will not pass on your data to third parties. This was confirmed again in July 2020 by an independent review. The company does keep an eye on a few – perhaps less important but understandable – data points, such as:

  • Service performance data to track the functionality of their services
  • your e-mail address
  • Payment details (partially circumvented by using cryptocurrencies)

VPN protocols

That’s all well and good, but without proper VPN protocols, all those servers are worth little. Here too, however, NordVPN excels:  you have the option to use OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPSec. NordVPN itself recommends using OpenVPN.

We will not go into the exact differences between the two in this review. The important thing here is to know that  OpenVPN is an open-source protocol, so it is frequently updated. This contributes to the stability and flexibility that OpenVPN is known for. You are of course free to read about what a VPN is and how the protocols differ from each other. 😉

Your data is also protected with super-strong  256-bit AES encryption. This is a military-grade encryption method that is also used for the sensitive data of secret services around the world. Even if your data is intercepted despite the above-mentioned top protocols, nobody would actually be able to access your data.

Vpn Tunnel Signed


IP and DNS leaks

I have used several websites – such as DNS leak, DNS leak test, and IP leak – to check whether IP or DNS leaks were occurring. This never showed that this was the case, so you can reasonably say that NordVPN’s DNS leak protection really works!

Security breach (March 2018)

NordVPN has confirmed that one of NordVPN’s servers was attacked in March 2018, although the fallout from the attack appears limited. There were no user activity logs on the server, as promised by the zero-logs policy.

There was also no way for the hacker to access usernames and passwords, nor was the attacker able to decrypt VPN traffic to other servers.

What exactly happened? An unauthorized person gained access to a server that NordVPN was renting from an external data center in  Finland at the time. NordVPN used what ultimately appeared to be an “insecure remote management system” left behind by the data center provider. However, NordVPN did not know such a system existed.

Update

The affected server was added to NordVPN’s server list on January 31, 2018. The provider discovered the vulnerability and deleted the remote management account on March 20 without informing NordVPN.

The company learned of what had happened a few months ago and immediately terminated its contract with the data center provider and erased all data on the leased servers. NordVPN didn’t immediately disclose the attack because the rest of its infrastructure needed to be checked to ensure similar problems didn’t occur elsewhere. NordVPN also “speeded up the encryption of all [their] servers”; that took some time due to the complex infrastructure and the 5000+ servers that are active.

The incident will not affect other NordVPN servers or data centers. NordVPN says that the providers they partner with must now adhere to higher security standards. All servers have now also been transferred to RAM.

Windows laptop with NordVPN open

3. Speed ​​and Performance

Upload and Download Speeds

Either way, using a VPN will affect your upload and download speeds. Part of the effectiveness of a VPN is therefore determined by how much  – or rather, how little  – it affects these speeds. Several tests – not just ours – show that NordVPN’s speeds are in the top 10 of VPNs.

The average values ​​we arrived at:

  • Using a  wired connection without a VPN, a  download speed of 99 Mbps and upload speed of 53 Mbps were achieved with a ping of 37 ms.
  • Connected to a European server, a  download speed of 74 Mbps and an upload speed of 48 Mbps were achieved with a ping of 37 ms.
  • When connected to a US server, a  download speed of 56 Mbps and an upload speed of 29 Mbps were achieved with a ping of 101 ms.
  • When connected to an Asian server, a  download speed of 12 Mbps and an upload speed of 5 Mbps were achieved with a ping of 211 ms.

P2P

NordVPN has created thousands of dedicated P2P servers solely for keeping your torrenting activities safe and private.

NordVPN is smarter than you might expect. A ‘P2P’ option in the apps will connect you to the best P2P-friendly server for your location without having to know where it is. Even if you forget to do this, the service will automatically redirect your connection to a torrent-friendly server if it detects P2P activity.

In addition to its direct P2P support, NordVPN has a number of other features that could make it a good torrenting choice: its well-known zero-logs policy, multiple layers of DNS and traffic leak prevention, and payment via Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, privacy extras including Double VPN and Onion Over VPN. So you can sail past – pun intended – at  Pirate Bay with peace of mind!

Netflix

Despite the aggressive VPN block that Netflix enforces, I am able to access Netflix content from several countries – including America. NordVPN is therefore one of the few VPNs that can pass this block. Sometimes it takes a little longer to load an episode of a series, but that huge offer is well worth the sporadic 30-second wait!

Note that Netflix does not explicitly prohibit the use of VPNs, but section 4.3 of the Terms of Use does state that Netflix uses technology to confirm your location. Therefore, this document does not guarantee access to content outside the country where you created your account.

So you are not breaking any official rules, but there is a real chance that Netflix will ever implement a really strict measure so that you, as someone who has taken out a subscription in the Netherlands, can only view the Dutch offer.


4. User- and customer-friendliness

A long list of over 50 tutorials explains how to set up the service manually and includes information on 20 more platforms and device types beyond the standard  Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, and Firefox  (such as Chrome OS, Windows Phone, Raspberry Pi, routers, NAS devices, etc.).

These tutorials contain a lot more detail than you might expect. NordVPN, for example, has no less than 11 Windows tutorials for, among other things, installing the regular client, OpenVPN, or manual setup guidance for different protocol types on Windows XP, 7, 8, and 10.

Or maybe you want to know how to set up NordVPN as a Socks 5 or browser proxy? No problem: there are tutorials for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, uTorrent, BitTorrent, Vuze, Skype, Deluge, and many more.

PC applications

NordVPN can be installed on  Windows, macOS, and Linux  – and as extensions in  Google Chrome and Firefox. The apps of macOS and Windows generally do not differ much, but you will also see a lot of similarities between the Windows/macOS apps and the mobile apps. These each has a fairly flat, minimalist appearance.

Nordvpn Mac

Anyway, the user-friendliness between the non-Linux PC applications remains the same: NordVPN is easy to operate and very intuitive to use. We will not go further into the Linux application, as this is a console-based client that only responds to commands.

Main Manu

The main menu displays many locations on a map. This works just like any other dynamic map on the internet. While this looks good, it is not a practical system. Scrolling back and forth on the map takes up unnecessary time. The list of available countries on the left is much easier to use. Here you will also immediately find the specialty servers I mentioned earlier.

By tapping the ‘more’ button next to a server, you can immediately choose a specific location. You can also search for a specific place name or server ID number in the search bar. However, does this still sound like too much hassle? Then you can also use a Favorites system for faster access.

The  Quick Connect button at the top right (which changes to  “Disconnect”  after clicking) will give you the fastest connection. This will connect you to the nearest server. If you then want to connect to another server, you don’t have to disconnect first: the app switches automatically as soon as you have selected another server.

Kill Switch

The settings you can access are also fine: you can do more than just enable or disable NordVPN when your PC starts up. NordVPN’s kill switch also offers more control than most other systems. An internet kill switch blocks all access to the internet unless you are connected to the VPN, while an app-specific kill switch only blocks certain apps from connecting if the VPN connection drops.

VPN protocols are limited to OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSEC, but luckily you can choose your own preferred DNS for all VPN connections to compensate. Most users shouldn’t mess with this setting, but if you know what you’re doing, changing DNS can improve browsing performance, help block access to malicious websites, or add other benefits.

Windows settings

You can also use a NordVPN extension in Google Chrome and Firefox. This is very useful if you only want to have your browser traffic go through a VPN – for example, because you only want to unblock a website.

The extension interface doesn’t include the familiar world map, but an Auto Connect button that connects you to the fastest server, and a Choose Location option that allows you to select only a specific country. (This time there is no option to choose a server by specific place name or number.)

A small settings window allows you to block WebRTC leaks in Chrome, mitigating privacy risks, and you can also enable or disable CyberSec’s ad, phishing, and malware blocking feature.

The NordVPN Firefox addon from NordVPN has also been checked. Sometimes VPN capabilities can vary between browser extensions, but NordVPN’s Chrome and Firefox addons had identical interfaces and functionality.

Mobile apps

NordVPN is also available for Android and iOS. The performance and usability of these apps are comparable to their PC equivalents in our experience.

As with the Windows and macOS versions, the mobile apps show a large  Quick Connect button, as well as the world map showing all the servers. Under the map, you can also browse by country so you don’t have to scour the entire map (and revive your seventh-grade geography exam ).

Swiping up will bring up an alphabetical list of countries, and you can scroll down to the US (or wherever), tap it, and instantly connect to the best server in that country.

If you want more control over your choice of location, tap a menu button to view the full list of locations in that country.

Android connection with NordVPN

You also expand locations to list all of their individual servers, but since there’s no server load or other information to see, this probably won’t help you much.

As usual with mobile software, mobile apps have fewer settings than their desktop equivalents. These settings include ad, phishing, and malware blocking via NordVPN’s CyberSec and a smarter automatic connection option. For example, you can set the app to automatically connect to a server whenever you connect to a WiFi hotspot – excluding trusted locations. This way you can be sure that you only turn on the VPN when you know you really need it.

Recent improvements include a new option to set a custom DNS server. You can also use TCP to improve connection reliability (Android only).

Server

However, it is not all good news. Unfortunately, the iOS Specialty Server list is a little shorter than Androids. You can view and select servers optimized for P2P or that support Onion over VPN, but there is no double VPN or Dedicated IP option.

That is not so bad; the double VPN feature won’t be necessary for most mobile users anyway, but if NordVPN tries to sell itself through those kinds of extras, we’d love to see it on all clients.

However, if all this isn’t convenient enough, you can now add your NordVPN connections to Siri from the iOS app. As NordVPN points out, connecting is a matter of “asking Siri nicely” to do so.

Routers, consoles, smart TVs

NordVPN is easy to use with routers with an OpenVPN client option. Comprehensive guides for different types of routers can be found on the NordVPN website. The manual is also suitable for people with less technical knowledge due to the images and video material accompanying the instructions.

In addition, there is also an extensive guide on how to set up NordVPN on routers with the different types of firmware.

The advantage of setting up a VPN on a router is that it ensures that all devices connect to the internet through a VPN. For example, you use your Chromecast and Apple TV via a NordVPN connection when setting up a VPN connection on your router.

Android TV with NordVPN

Furthermore, NordVPN can also be used directly within the  Android TV ecosystem. Unfortunately, Apple TV, Roku, Playstation, and Xbox don’t enjoy the same accessible clients. If you absolutely want to use a VPN on these devices, it has to go through a router.

Customer service

Every VPN of note also has a page of tutorials to help you out – including NordVPN. The knowledge library on their help page is huge with (my estimate) at least 500 tutorials.

Can’t figure it out yet? Then NordVPN customer service can be reached at  support@nordvpn.com  or via the live chat on their website. Your questions will first be answered with a  copy-and-paste solution that often refers to an article from their help page.

If that is not enough and you keep asking questions, you will soon be spoken to by someone with more knowledge who will be happy to help you further.


NordVPN Alternatives

ExpressVPN – Best VPN for Speed ​​Fans

Looking for the fastest speeds? Then you go to ExpressVPN. For a slightly higher price, you get a comparable set of functionalities, but the speed is even higher. So if you really want to outsmart slower internet speeds while connected to a VPN service. ExpressVPN is your best option.

Go to ExpressVPN →

CyberGhost – Best VPN for Netflixers

Do you mainly use your VPN service to unblock foreign Netflix content? Then take a look at CyberGhost. This company offers the cheapest two-year subscription and access to, among other things, the American Netflix series and movies.

Go to CyberGhost →


Conclusion – NordVPN review

In short: NordVPN is an absolute king among VPN services. Especially when you keep in mind what you pay for all services, servers, security, and extra functionalities, NordVPN is a clear winner.

 

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